John Van Anden was all about community

John Van Anden smiles behind the counter of Lakeview Deli in 2004, after recovering from a heart transplant. (Enterprise photo — Matt Lavin)

In the interest of fairness, we don’t usually comment much about those who appear in our obituaries. But the death of John Van Anden took the wind out of our sails this week — and yet also filled us with fond memories of him and his wonderful family.

People who have only lived in Saranac Lake for the last few years may not have known John, but he used to be everywhere in this village. Of course, he and his wife Buffy were always behind the counter of the busy Lakeview Deli, their family institution. Everyone there always worked hard, but John was the talkative one who would catch up with customers, share news and views, build relationships and always try to reinforce neighborly values. Outside of work he could be seen at every chamber of commerce event or anywhere else where Saranac Lake’s most involved citizens talked about improving the community. He was all about the community. There was a lot of that kind of thing in the 1990s and early 2000s, and he was in the thick of it — until his heart gave out.

He had a heart transplant almost 18 years ago. As columnist Bob Seidenstein wrote in the Enterprise at the end of 2003, “to replace a heart as big and kind and generous as John’s would seem impossible. Thankfully, it wasn’t.”

That’s very true, but while John did bounce back from the transplant, health problems returned, on and off. He had to step back and disengage from the community he adored. His family and, later, nursing staff cared for him diligently, but we didn’t see him anymore. We’re sure it was harder than we knew.

The last time we could remember seeing John was probably back in 2014, at a post-funeral reception Lakeview catered for Chester Fobare. Chatting over the potato salad, he seemed a little mellower than before but still the same old John.

He was just a really nice guy, a giving kind of guy, the kind of guy who doesn’t go for taking sides or any of that political nonsense, but just wants everyone to get along and have fun together — even if he’s making them all sandwiches rather than sharing the festivities. He was part of a family that cares deeply about this town, works harder than heck and upholds high standards for their business and their personal lives.

John was the most outgoing of them, the face of the deli and, for years, of the chamber of commerce board. While his death made us sad, it also felt good to remember him. From us here at Enterprise to all the Van Andens, we send our best wishes.


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